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Netanyahu tasked with forming next Israeli government

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been formally tasked with forming the new government. President Reuven Rivlin handed the task to Netanyahu after he secured enough support in the Knesset.

"I have decided to give you the role of putting together the government," the Israeli president told Netanyahu at a ceremony broadcast live on Israel's public TV and radio station on Wednesday.

"I see myself as the prime minister of all citizens of Israel, of those who voted for me and those who did not," Netanyahu said.

In his first statement after the meeting with Rivlin, Netanyahu said Israel wants peace with the Palestinians.

"Our hand is held out in peace to our Palestinian neighbors and the people of Israel know that real peace and our future will only be assured if Israel is strong," he added.

The Israeli prime minister also vowed to continue working against an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

"We will continue to act to prevent the emerging agreement with Iran. An agreement which endangers us, our neighbors, and the world," Netanyahu stressed.

Previously, the head of the Central Elections Committee, Judge Salim Joubran, delivered the official election results to President Rivlin, which is a common step before the president asks the future prime minister to form the next government.

In a statement Rivlin released before Wednesday's meeting with the prime minister, the Israeli president responded to

Netanyahu's remarks, which had drawn sharp words from US President Barack Obama

.

"We were fortunate to see a higher voter turnout than the last election. A high voter turnout is the realization of democracy and a blessing to democracy," President Rivlin wrote in a statement.

"How awful would it be, if the democratic duty to vote, were to be seen as a curse, or something from which to be warned off? One who is afraid of votes in a ballot box will eventually see stones thrown in the streets," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for issuing a warning to his supporters during the country's election. "The Arabs are voting in droves," he had said last week.

Netanyahu said he knew his "comments offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli-Arab community."

"This was never my intent. I apologize for this," the leader of Likud Party said after he met with members of the Arab community at his residence in Jerusalem on Monday.

The Joint List of Arab parties rejected Netanyahu's apology, claiming he was planning "racist and marginalizing legislation" in the Knesset. "His regret is no more than an empty gesture," the List added.

Netanyahu's rightwing Likud secured the election victory last week, winning 30 seats in the parliament, followed by the center-left Zionist Union with 24 seats. The Kulanu centrist party of former minister Moshe Kahlon is likely to join the new coalition with 10 seats - along with far-right parties Jewish Home, 8, Yisrael Beitenu, 6, and religious factions Shas, 7, and United Torah Judaism, 6.

jil/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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